Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration

Langdridge, Darren (2005). Actively dividing selves: S/M and the thrill of disintegration. Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review, 6(3) pp. 198–208.



This paper examines the ways in which a divided self may be actively cultivated for thrill in sadomasochistic scenes. In The Divided Self Laing (1959/1990) presents an existential theory of schizophrenia and personal alienation describing a process where there is a separation of self/body amongst the ontologically insecure outsider. Whilst Laing’s theory concerns an experience of deep despair, van Deurzen-Smith (1991) argues that the theory should be reconceptualised as a way of understanding the existential anxiety common to all human experience rather than just the extreme experience of psychosis. In this paper I draw on some of Laing’s ideas to look at the way in which the splits between the self/body might be deliberately cultivated during sadomasochistic sex scenes amongst ontologically secure individuals. In addition, I explore the ways in which ‘petrification’ (Laing, 1959/1990) and ‘the look’ (Sartre, 1943/2003) might also be key parts of the sadomasochistic experience.

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